Filipino expats from across Dubai and the Northern Emirates trooped to the Dubai World Trade Centre as early as 7am on Friday to take part in the celebration of the 119th Philippine Independence Day (PID).
It was definitely a whole day of festivities, highlighted by cultural presentations by performers from various Philippine schools in Dubai and Sharjah. They were dressed in bright-coloured national costumes and danced to the rhythm of native drums, gongs and other musical instruments as the audience were busy capturing and sharing every moment on their smartphones.
The Filipinos' passion for singing also took centrestage as UAE-based crooners battled it out in the OPM (Original Pinoy Music) singing competition. Besting a dozen contestants, Noryneel Hernandez grabbed the top prize with her rendition of 'Ako Ang Nagwagi' (I'm Triumphant). Coming in second place was Christian Encelencia who sang 'Ikaw Mahal Pa Rin' (I Still Love You) and Elton Bautista, in third place, who did his own interpretation of the classic Filipino song 'Magsimula Ka' (Start Over Again).
In the side hall, some students and budding artists were busy competing in the on-the-spot painting competition while others were preparing in the Pinoy hairstyle challenge and some musicians were tuning their instruments and fixing their outfits for the battle of the bands. Some teens were seen preparing for the Mr and Miss Teen PID.
"The event highlighted Philippine music, art, dance, ingenuity and creativity," said Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes.
"It was also a time of strengthening the bond and camaraderie within the Filipino community," added Wafa Qasimieh, executive cultural consultant at the islamic affairs and charitable activities department - Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Islamic Culture.
Of course, not to be missed were the Filipino food and snacks on sale. From pancit (stir fried noodles) to puto bumbong (rice cake); favourite deserts ube halaya and leche flan; Pinoy pan de sal, chicken inasal, kare-kare and lumpia, the visitors had a taste of home-cooked meals and delicacies.
But it was not just Filipinos who sold Pinoy food. French-Lebanese Houssam Abdul Malak, owner of Fiesta Pinoy restaurant in Deira, proudly vended his own version of Pinoy sweets and breads.
The Pinoy 'dyipni' (jeepney or jeep), an ubiquitous symbol of Philippine culture and art, was also a crowd-puller. Kids were seen playing inside it while adults were taking selfies, probably out of nostalgia and yearning for their homeland. In the Philippines, jeepneys are used as public utility vehicles and considered as the king of the road for their sheer passenger capacity.
It was a day of celebration as well as patriotism. The Filipinos, though most have been away from their country for a long, did not forget that they too have a duty to celebrate their country.